May is National Arthritis Awareness Month – 100+ types of arthritis and the thumb is one!

hand written "arthritis" in marker

Posted on 5/10/2017 by Jamie McGaha, OTD, OTR, COMT, CEASI

 

Join NovaCare Rehabilitation and Select Physical Therapy as we celebrate National Arthritis Awareness Month! Recognized each May by the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis impacts more than 50 million people in the United States and is the number one cause of disability in the country. Did you know there are more than 100 types of arthritis? Currently, one in five adults is affected by at least one type of arthritis1. By 2030 an estimated 67 million adults will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, with two-thirds being women2.

The hands are one of the most common sites for arthritis. The most functionally limiting type of hand arthritis affects the base of the thumb, also known as basal thumb arthritis or first carpometacarpal osteoarthritis (OA).

In the past, we thought the only way to alleviate pain from thumb OA was to rest the joint in a splint and not exercise. Now we see too much time in an orthosis can make the thumb weaker and it may even be harder for you to do things when you take the brace off.

New evidence in the field of hand therapy has taught us that there is so much more we can do other than rest and that it is important for the joints’ health to move! We have found that by understanding our own thumb anatomy and learning how to find the correct muscles in the thumb, we can strengthen weakened or disused muscle, helping to stabilize the arthritic joint. We can also decrease overuse and tightness in muscles that are working too hard because others are not helping. Better muscle function and greater stability can contribute to less pain and decrease time you need to rest or use an orthosis.

Not all thumb OA is alike. A visit to your hand therapist would allow you to find out which muscles are tight and which are weak. Together, you and your hand therapist would then design an individualized plan of care for your symptoms related to the activities you desire to do.

The right exercises can be so effective that the joint can become better aligned; this has been shown with healthy thumbs on X-ray3. Your hand therapist can also help you to determine when to wear your orthosis and when not to, so your thumb has the appropriate support at the correct time.

There are many new techniques being used in therapy. It’s even hard for the physicians to keep up to date on all the new techniques! Checking in regularly with a hand therapist may provide solutions to many of your aches, pains and limitations from hand and thumb arthritis.

Barbour KE, et al. Vital Signs: Prevalence of doctor-diagnosed arthritis and arthritis-attributable activity limitations- United States 2013-2015. MMWR 2017; 66(9); 246-253.
Hootman JM, Helmick CG. Projections of U.S. prevalence of arthritis and associated activity limitations. Arthritis Rheum 2006;58(1):26–35.
McGee C, Adams J, Van Nortwick SS, O’Brien VH, Van Heest AE. Activation of the first dorsal ineterossesous muscle results in radiographic reduction of the thumb CMC joint: Implications for arthritis prevent [abstract] Paper presented at The British Society for Surgery of the Hand; January 2015.
Jamie McGahaBy: Jamie McGaha, OTD, OTR, COMT, CEASI. Jamie is a licensed occupational therapist focusing on hand therapy and upper extremity rehabilitation with Select Physical Therapy in Austin, TX. She completes ergonomic assessments and has experience with ergonomic interventions. Jamie is also an assistant faculty member for anatomy at the University of St. Augustine’s occupational therapy program. She is a certified orthopaedic manual therapist for the upper extremity, has current and ongoing research on the subject of thumb arthritis and is a member of the American Society for Hand Therapists and the Central Texas Hand Society.